SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)
Sacred Sword Kills Communists Symbol
Note: The author of the book: Unimagined Community: Imperialism and Culture in South Vietnam requested and received permission to use images from this article. Author Regis P. Sheehan sent me a copy of the book Black Entry. He used this article as a reference and guide and his Chapter 28 is titled "Sacred Sword."
One of the most interesting and intricate Allied deception plans used during the war in Vietnam was a black operation that claimed to be an anti-Communist movement called Mat Tran Guom Thieng Ai Quoc, ("Sacred Sword of the Patriot League" or SSPL), located inside North Vietnam. This imaginary guerilla group and village was supported and sponsored by the U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam's Studies and Observation Group (MACVSOG), supervised by the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States Information Agency, and the South Vietnamese Nha-Ky-Thuat(Strategic Technical Directorate).
An 11 July 1966 letter entitled General Concept for the Organization of the North Vietnamese Freedom Front was sent to the Commander in Chief, Pacific, by Major General Richard S. Abbey, USAF,
Deputy Chief of Staff, United StatesMilitary Assistance . Command, Vietnam
This eleven-page letter was in reply to an April 1966 request that the organization of a Fake Freedom Front be established. The
United Stateswas operating numerous black and clandestine operations against and required a plausible denial for these actions. The Freedom Front, and specifically the Sacred Sword of the Patriots League was to offer that deniability. Although some American and Vietnamese officials would know that the front was an American invention, that information would be restricted to very few individuals. Some of the more interesting comments in the letter are: North Vietnam
The SSPL is the denial mechanism for disclaiming
U.S.and sponsorship of Operation Plan 34A activities The cover story for the SSPL will be that it is the action arm of the front and that it receives it funds from the front. Republicof Vietnam
By avoiding public announcement of responsibility for OPLAN 34A operations the SSPL group will not be forced to provide answers to such questions as: Where did the boats come from? Who paid for them? Where are they based?
SSPL broadcasts, which local Saigon residents might hear, can be explained by saying that the SSPL rented air time from a local station.
Professor Duy Lap Nguyen's THE UNIMAGINED COMMUNITY: IMPERIALISM AND CULTURE IN SOUTH VIETNAM, Manchester University Press, 2022, explains the SSPL this way:
To reproduce the people's war waged in the South by the communist forces, US, and Republic of Vietnam (RVN) intelligence
organizations attempted to manufacture a "network of resistance" in the North, directed against the government in Hanoi. One of the most elaborate of these psychological warfare campaigns was the Sacred Sword Patriotic League (SSPL). The program employed a range of tactics, including the dissemination of a national media through modern forms of mass communications for the purpose of "implanting the idea of an anti-communist organization in the minds of the people in North Vietnam." The idea for the organization was developed based on information gathered from interviews with defectors in the Chieu hoi program.
Working together with the RVN's Strategic Technical Directorate attempted to implant the idea of the SSPL using modern mass media. Leaflets and posters for the phony organization, printed in color, were produced at a propaganda production studio located in Saigon, which employed numerous Vietnamese artists, painters, and translators. In addition, SSPL radio stations were established in Hue and Thu Duc,
transmitting hours of programming by the "Voice of the Sacred Sword," broadcast supposedly from a clandestine base in Ha Tinh. The content of the radio programs consisted of phony communications and orders to local committees, instructions to the general population on techniques for resisting the government, reports on enemy casualties, and lurid accounts of corruption and scandal in the Communist Party. The stations also played patriotic music, including an SSPL marching song titled "Let Us Rise up Ardently and Liberate our Nation," which was composed as part of the psywar campaign. Thousands of fixed-frequency radios, bearing the insignia of the organization (an image of the sacred sword of Le Loi), were distributed through covert air operations over North Vietnamese territory.
In the end, however, the SSPL, like other US and RVN intelligence programs, would fail to produce any substantial results. For McNamara, the aim of programs like the SSPL was not to establish "networks of resistance" in the North, but rather to develop a purely "notional (fictitious) Vietnamese national liberation movement." Just as the war in general, then, was conceived as a public relations campaign to "convince the enemy that he could not win," so the use of psywar was mostly confined to the spectacular goal of producing the impression of an alternative to the communist state in the North.
Much of what you read in this article will appear to be repetitious. That is because the data comes from over 40 interviews and a dozen publications. Many of the people involved tell their stories from different time periods and different points of view. We offer these different views so that the reader can get an idea of what was going on during the course of the Vietnam War with this particular PSYOP campaign.
Before I go into the technical aspects of this PSYOP campaign I want to say that it was clearly doomed from the start. A lot of time and money went into this project, but like other aspects of the war in Vietnam, guidance from Washington D.C. hamstrung the operators and defeated any chance of this operation succeeding. To understand why, you have to go back to the Hungarian uprising of October 1956. The CIA-administered Radio Free Europe had aggressively advised the Hungarian people to rise up against their Russian and Communist masters. When the Hungarian "Freedom-fighters" took to the streets, they believed that the West would come to their aid with troops and materiel. Radio Free Europe and The Voice of America indicated help was on its way and encouraged the Hungarians to fight on. It was all smoke and mirrors. The West faltered, and the Hungarians were slaughtered by the thousands or led off to prison. Over 200,000 people fled across the now open borders to freedom.
When the Americans created the Sacred Sword of the Patriotic League in Vietnam, nobody in Washington wanted another Hungary. It was therefore decided that there would be no overt action or sabotage against the Government in North Vietnam. SOG admits that there is a major problem in its summary of the program dated 1968. "By early 1968, the SOG policy makers had reached an impasse. On one hand they were urged to invigorate the SSPL concept and organization and on the other hand, they were told repeatedly that the one development fundamental to a viable SSPL organization the resistance movement concept could not be approved at the Washington level. The bombing halts and negotiations commencing 1 April 1968, brought all serious proposals for increased action against the North to a standstill." The United States tried to make the North believe that there was a viable resistance movement within their borders, but this alleged movement never took any action, it just "was." As a result, nobody was fooled.
A second problem occurred when every time that the United States and North Vietnam came close to an understanding, all actions in the north, including those of the SSPL, were halted. It was clear to all that the SSPL must be an American PSYOP campaign. Under the constraints placed on operations by American policy, there was no way that this clandestine campaign could succeed. For instance, Psychological operations were restricted twice during 1968 as a result of the limitation on and subsequent cessation of bombing against North Vietnam. On 3 April, the Joint Chiefs of Staff discontinued the detention of North Vietnamese fishermen at Paradise Island, and restricted the distribution of leaflets above 20 degrees North latitude.
The Military Assistance Command Vietnam, the Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG) was charged with conducting unconventional warfare, including black propaganda. MACV-SOG's efforts were organized around sections that were assigned responsibility for clandestine operations (OP). OP-33 was the PSYOP Branch, patterned after the World War II Morale Operations Branch of the OSS; 1n 1968 it was re-designated OP-39, the Psychological Studies Group.
Mervyn Roberts mentions MACVSOG in Propaganda and Influence: Russian and Chinese Targeting of America:
The Johnson administration transferred PSYWAR against the north from the CIA to a new organization, the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observations Group in early 1964.
To support the SSPL deception, SOG "increased use of deceptive operations" meant to make the leadership in Hanoi believe an extensive resistance movement existed in the north. They sought to induce the North Vietnamese population "to adopt a posture of non-cooperation with the regime" particularly among the middle and low-level cadres. The desired effect was to make the regime perceive "a significant threat to its control" forcing a reorientation of security assets and policies.
The SSPL gave an overarching ideology for the notional programs. It had the added benefit of creating phantoms for a paranoid regime to chase. The campaigns consisted of several interlocking programs. Black radio stations, broadcasts with misleading attribution, supported the SSPL and the notional operations. Messages sent to 'agents' in the north by 'families' lent credibility to the fiction. Radio Red Flag was a notional northern rebel communist station, but represented a nationalistic, Marxist viewpoint and promoted the Sino-Soviet split. The real solution, according to Red Flag, was the return of Northern troops to let the South solve its own problems. While Radio Red Flag targeted North Vietnam, Red Star targeted the Vietcong by pretending to be the official NLF station. Meanwhile the Voice of the SSPL themes supported Ho Chi Minh and the North first group of national, rather than international socialists led by Le Duan. Stories applauded negotiations that brought the soldiers 'home' and set reconstruction as a top priority, as long as negotiators did not cede economic or territorial rights.
The Studies and Observations Group procured transistor radios for airdrop in the DRV to increase potential radio audience. The SOG produced radios were not able to receive the real Radio Hanoi frequency, only the Group's covert stations. These radios were tamper-proof, and the circuit board was encased in plastic to prevent reuse. In addition to dropping the radios, agents and commandoes left them after raids in the North, expecting people to find them.
The Operations Staff Directorate was divided into numbered divisions: OP31 through OP35. This was Navy nomenclature because MACV was originally organized and supported by CINCPAC, a Navy dominated unified command.
The branches within MACVSOG were:
OP-31: Maritime Studies Branch. Code-named - "Plowman."
OP-32: Air Studies Branch. Code-named - "Midriff."
OP-33: PSYOP Studies Branch. Code-named -"Humidor". Comprised four sections: (a) Research and development; (b) Radio; (c) Special Projects; and (d) Printed media, forgeries and black mail. Within section (d), the military was in charge of printed media, and the CIA oversaw forgeries and black mail. PSYOP operations conducted by (d) included the Sacred Sword of Patriots League (SSPL); the contamination of enemy ammunition; the mailing from three countries of leaflets, gifts and fake letters; and the preparation (for Laos) of forged currency and booby traps. Redesignated OP-39, Psychological Studies Group, in 1968. Lieutenant Colonel Tom Bowen commanded OP-33 from 22 August 1967 to 17 April 1968, retired as a Brigadier General. Major James H. Spear ran MACV-SOG OP-33 operations from 67 to 69 under Tom Bowen and for a while under General John K. Singlaub. General Singlaub later said about the black radio stations of the SSPL:
We would spend our time feeding the Vietnamese fishermen well, fattening them up, so to speak; we cured any medical problems they had, whether it was rashes or whatever. This indicated that things were better in the resistance area than they were in their own village. We collected information from them and provided them with information about the Hanoi government on corruption, etc. So, when they went back, they were healthier and certainly had more pounds. We'd give them very high-calorie foods. But we spent a lot of time discussing the fallacies of communism, and they would tell us about acts of corruption and dishonesty among officials. We would then be able to broadcast very specific cases to create disruption inside North Vietnam. OP-33 and OP-31 worked closely because of the Paradise Island operation.
Our goal, as I was briefed originally, was to create a resistance movement in the North and you don't do that overnight. The black psywar, the grey psywar was building up the psychological acceptance of this. The fact that I got that extra squadron of C-130s gave me the capability to resupply units. Now, we were doing PSYOP drops in the North including radios with preset channels, and some leaflets, and gift packages to certain areas. We had the capability of supplying an area as soon as we got some indication that we had a resistance going. And the North, after they would wrap up a team, tried to get us to drop the supplies they wanted, especially watches and things like that. In terms of these agent teams, after I conducted a study, it was my conclusion that all the agent teams had been doubled. That was when I decided that we would use it as a conduit for disinformation and deception and maybe keep the guys alive. If we just turned it off, I'm as convinced they would have killed them. Alive they meant something to the intelligence service, and they would want to keep them alive.
The senior CIA guy was there as an advisor to chief SOG. He was our liaison. There were, I think, eight or nine CIA people in SOG. As I recall, a couple of them were linguists and so they were working with the people producing the programs. After I had the idea for the Eldest Son project, which was the sabotaged ammunition, I wanted to exploit that, and they helped. The OP 33 people who had the responsibility for this were working very closely with the agency people who were scattered throughout doing other operations. That's one of the benefits we had of being closely tied to the agency.
The Official SOG History explains in greater detail:
The psychological operations directed by MACSOG from January 1964 to mid-1969 were referred to simply as Psychological Operations until the code name HUMIDOR was assigned in 1967 to those activities of the Psychological Group directed against North Vietnam (NVN). Included under HUMIDOR were black and white (gray) radio operations, leaflet and gift kit operations, black letter operations, and Paradise Island (ostensibly the headquarters of the Sacred Sword Patriots League (SSPL)) operations.
The 1968 MACSOG Mission Statement says, The mission of MACSOG Psychological Operations Group (POG) is to conduct black psychological operations directed against NVN ... identified by the code word HUMIDOR. The primary target of HUMIDOR operations is the civilian population of NVN. These operations are conducted to: establish attitudes within NVN contrary to present policies of the Lao Dong Party (LDP), create a feeling of distrust for the leadership of the DRV, promote war weariness and engender an attitude which indicates that continuation of the war is contrary to DRV national welfare.
The MACSOG Documentation Study, Annex A, Psychological Operations, 10 July 1970, was originally classified Top-Secret Sensitive, later downgraded to Secret. It is now declassified. It says that the first facilities of the Sacred Sword of the Patriotic League were built in 1964 on
(code-named DODO). The Joint Chiefs of Staff proposed in 1965 that some sort of resistance movement in Paradise Island be formed and supported. The North Vietnam government was unwilling to support a resistance movement and the recommendation was disapproved. In 1966 COMUSMACV recommended the establishment of a front organization to worry United States . In 1966 the mission of the American Psychological Operations Group was to work with the Vietnamese Strategic Technical Service (STS) in halting northern support for guerrilla activities in the south. The two headquarters occupied the same building at Number 7, Hong Thap Tu, North Vietnam Saigon. The location housed propaganda production studios, a print shop, a library and a storage vault. Tactical leaflets were marked with a sword, strategic leaflets bore a freedom arrow. Declassified SOG documents show the extent of the leaflet operation in . 31 million leaflets were dropped in 1964, 67 million in 1965, 142 million in 1966 and 271 million in 1968. MACV could produce 200,000 3x6-inch leaflets per eight-hour shift on its Harris high-speed press. The PSYWAR Directorate had a Webendorf Press that that SOG was authorized to use from 1600-2400. It could produce 500,000 leaflets per shift. A black SSPL radio was set up first in Vietnam , later in Thu Duc. The Navy also broadcast SSPL programs as part of Operation Jenny from EC-121 aircraft. In 1967 SOGs mission emphasized the increasing the credibility of the SSPL as a resistance movement in Hue . North Vietnam
The Viet Cong knew that the black radio station Guom Thieng Ai Quoc (Sacred Sword and Patriotism) was an American station. Proof of this appears in a declassified 2 May 1967 149th Military Intelligence group document entitled Viet Cong Propaganda. The document states that four VC gave a propaganda speech to assembled forest workers on 12 April 1967 where they told the audience that the station was an American propaganda tool. The Black radio station claimed to broadcast from Ha
Tinh Province(Le Loi's home province), but actually transmitted from American bases in South Vietnam
OPS-34: Airborne Studies Branch. Responsible for northern infiltration by air. This operation became the Ground Studies Branch, which was then assigned to OPS-35; OPS-34 became a staff section, and OP-36 became the Airborne Studies Group. Infiltration operations were code-named "Timberwork," and later "Forae." Since it was part of the infiltration campaign there were also black radio stations that pretended to be in the North and would broadcast instructions to different groups that were imaginary. Occasionally it would go off the air with stories of having been attacked and pursued and then come back later. This was often done by the British black radio to Germany in WWII.
OPS-35: Ground Studies Branch. Responsible for cross-border operations. It was comprised of three elements.
Special Operations Augmentation Command and Control Central (SOACCC) was formed in November 1967 and departed Vietnam in March 1971. It was stationed in Kontum, with responsibility for classified unconventional warfare operations throughout the tri-border regions of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It had around 30 Spike Reconnaissance Teams (RT). Hatchet Forces, and four Search Location and Annihilation Mission Companies (SLAM Companies A, B, C and D). Originally named after states (Arizona, New Mexico, etc.), RTs later adopted names of Asian poisonous snakes and assorted designations once all state names had been exhausted.
Special Operations Augmentation Command and Control North (SOACCN) was formed in November 1967 and departed Vietnam in March 1971. It was assigned conduct of classified special unconventional warfare missions into Laos and North Vietnam. It was composed of Spike reconnaissance teams, Hatchet forces and lettered SLAM companies. Missions into North Vietnam were initiated as early as I February 1964 under Operation Plan 34A. Operations into Laos commenced in September 1965 as part of Operation SHINING BRASS, renamed PRAIRIE FIRE in 1968. In 1971 the Laotian operations were given the code name PHU DUNG.
Special Operations Augmentation Command and Control South (SOACCS) was formed in November 1967 and departed Vietnam in March 1971. It was located in Ban Me Thuot and created when permission was granted to conduct cross-border missions into Cambodia. It was engaged in classified special unconventional warfare missions inside VC-dominated South Vietnam and throughout Cambodia. It contained Spike reconnaissance teams, Hatchet forces, and four SLAM companies. Cross-border operations had been conducted into northeastern Cambodia since May 1967 under Project DANIEL BOONE, later known as SALEM HOUSE. In 1971 the name was changed to THOT NOT.
It should be noted that prior to 1968, OP-35s CCN, CCC & CCS were called FOBs (Forward Operating Bases). There were 4 FOBs. FOB1 later became the CCN. FOB 2 & 3 combined to form the CCC. FOB4, became the CCS.
Boots Porter, 1SG, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) during
In 1968 I was at FOB-1 (Phu Bai), FOB-2 (Kontum) and FOB-4 (Danang). After the change FOB-4 became CCN, FOB-2 became CCC and FOB-5 (Ban Me Thut) Became CCS. You can take it to the bank. I was there at each of them.
OP-37: Maritime Studies Group. The Maritime Studies Group was the action arm of OP-31: the Maritime Studies Branch, and was responsible for covert maritime operations conducted by the Vietnamese Coastal Security Service (CSS). Its cover name was the Naval Advisory Detachment. The capability to carry out missions against North Vietnam was maintained through extensive training at Da Nang and by conducting operational missions against selected targets in South Vietnam.
OP-39: Psychological Studies Group. See OP-33.
Leaflet operations were sometimes credited to more than one branch, probably depending on whether the task was the production or the dissemination of the leaflets. All black propaganda and currency counterfeiting emerged from OP-33. Leaflets were disseminated with the assistance of OP-34 and OPS-35.
SOG comprised about 400 soldiers at a given time. About 100 soldiers were doing actual combat duty, with each of the three Command and Control units of OP-35 having about 36 Americans.
The "Sacred Sword" refers to a Viet hero named Le Loi who expelled China from Vietnam in the 15th Century with a magical sword.
Robert W. Chandler mentions the historic Vietnamese opposition to China in War of Ideas: the U.S. Propaganda campaign in Vietnam, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1981. He says:
No less than fifteen times during the last 900 years the people (of Vietnam) responded to the call to arms, frustrating invasion attempts by superior Chinese and Mongol forces. Each time a trespasser presented himself at their doorstep, the peasants threw themselves into the conflict, routing the invaders and preserving independence.
The resistance most remembered by the Vietnamese was the successful overthrow of the fifty-year Chinese interregnum in 1428. Le Loi, an aristocratic landowner called the "Prince of Pacification," encouraged and led the people in a decade of incessant guerrilla warfare that evicted the intruders. His leadership became legendary over the following centuries; repeated by word-of-mouth from one generation to the next.
JUSPAO Leaflet 1668A Le Loi
JUSPAO prepared a series of leaflets, handouts and posters that depicted Le Loi. They are all numbered 1668, and the variations have alpha characters attached.
The standard handout numbered 1668 is in full color and depicts Le Loi in armor at the head of a Vietnamese peasant army. It is 7 x 10 inches in size. The text in Vietnamese is, "Follow the example of Hero Le Loi. Promote the unyielding spirit of the Vietnam people in the destruction of the Communists and the salvation of the country." There is also an identical poster numbered 1668, but the size is 20 x 28 inches.
Other variations are 1668A (a postcard sized leaflet printed four to a 8 x 10 1/2 sheet), 1668B (A standard leaflet printed nine to a 10 1/2 x 16 sheet), and a Cambodian-language leaflet numbered 1668C (a postcard sized leaflet printed four to a 8 x 10 1/2 sheet).
The story of the sacred sword is famous in Vietnamese folklore. The story dates back to the time of the Ming dynasty. The Chinese domination weighed heavily on Vietnam. Overburdened with taxes, the peasants of Thanh Hoa province, Lam Son district, rebelled but were easily defeated by the Chinese.
Long Quan, the spiritual Emperor of Water intervened. He sent a gift to a Thanh Hoa fisherman called Le Than. One night as he lifted his net, Than found that it was much heavier than usual. He thought it contained an iron bar so he threw in back into the water. A little later he netted the same iron bar. After the third occurrence he looked more closely and found that the bar was in fact, a sword.
Le Loi and some soldiers visited Than. In a corner shone the sword. Astonished, Le Loi took up the sword and studied it. On the sword were the words, "By the will of Heaven!"
Later, after a military defeat, Le Loi and his lieutenants saw a strange light on top of a banyan tree. Climbing up the tree he found that it came from a sword hilt inlaid with jade. He then remembered the sword he had seen at Than's house. The next day, he informed Than of his discovery. The hilt fit the sword perfectly.
Than said, "My prince, it's Heaven who sent it to you! We pledge to follow you and sacrifice our lives for the independence of the Homeland!"
The sacred sword in Le Loi's hands made him invincible, and so motivated his troops that soon the whole country was liberated.
One year after the Ming had been driven out, Le Loi, who had become King, went boating on the Ta Vong Lake, in the heart of the capital. A gold tortoise approached the boat. "Please be so kind as to return to my master Long Quan, the Emperor of the Kingdom of Waters, the sacred sword that he has entrusted you." Le Loi threw the sword into the water where the gold tortoise swallowed it and dived. Since that day that the Ta Vong Lake has been called "Sword Lake" or more exactly "Lake of the Restored Sword."
Note the similarity between this Vietnamese legend and the story of King Arthur, Excalibur, and the Lady of the lake.
Every child in North Vietnam knew the story of Le Loi, and he was second only to Ho Chi Minh in their list of national heroes. He was a perfect symbol for the West to use as a fighter against imperialism and oppression, and the CIA quickly decided that his story would work well in an anti-Communist PSYOP campaign.
Kenneth Conboy and Dale Andrade mention the concept of the new Sacred Sword in Spies and Commandos - How America Lost the Secret War in North Vietnam, University Press of Kansas, 2000. Some of their comments are:
Five hundred years later the sacred sword returned to Vietnam, although the twentieth century version was the brainchild of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. From its origins in the dying days of the First Indochina War, America's spy organization launched a cover operation against Hanoi that would have far reaching effects on U.S. cold war policy, not just in Southeast Asia but throughout the world.
The new sacred sword was wielded by psychological warriors, men who fought with ideas instead of weapons, propaganda instead of bullets. Summoning the specter of China - Vietnam's timeless foe - was not lost on CIA planners. Updating the legend, they hoped to use it to convince the North Vietnamese people that their government was a lackey of China and the Soviet Union. The same disinformation also criticized the South Vietnamese reliance on the United States, a tactic designed to mask Washington's hand in the scheme and capitalize of Vietnam's historical distrust of any foreign intervention. The point of the sacred sword was to rid Vietnam of all foreigners just as Le Loi had done centuries before.
The Sacred Sword of Patriotism symbol
The background of the PSYOP campaign to form and support a fake anti-Communist movement within North Vietnam is told in several books. Most agree that Herb Weisshart of the CIA was named deputy chief of the North Vietnam Operations Branch in Saigon. About that same time Washington was in the process of switching the PSYOP operations to MACVSOG under "Operation Switchback." The CIA and military worked very closely from that time forward.
Weisshart was appointed Deputy Head of MACVSOG, specializing in psychological operations from its inception in January 1964 to Mid-1965. He recalls some of his activities:
From 1961-1963 activities included leaflet and gift kit airdrops, gray and black radio broadcasts (VOF and VOSSPL), the initial development of the notional resistance movement and a very few special air operations (intelligence gathering). We also ran maritime operations using small boats for psywar, intelligence, and paramilitary actions against coastal targets. I would characterize these operations as very modest. It was a small program.
When I went out there and started the SSPL, increased the leaflet drops, accelerated the radio programs, it was only for one reason. That was to see what we could do to force North Vietnam to take some of their assets and divert them to worrying about what we were doing in their backyard. You couldn't expect much more. We had an awful situation in the South to propose as an alternative for what the people in the North were experiencing. It was not a great psywar comparison that we could capitalize on. We just had to hope that there were reasons why some people up north would be dissatisfied, and that we could capitalize on it early in the game. Nevertheless, at the time I believed there were several reasons why they wouldn't want to be dissatisfied. It was a tough situation at that time.
The SSPL was planned and implemented beginning in April 1963. It was based on a similar notional resistance movement program developed elsewhere in 1952 and still in effect in 1963. Soon after my arrival in South Vietnam we sought a legend and an easily recognized symbol upon which to base a notional resistance movement in NVN. Several of my staff had previous experience in leaflets, radios, propaganda, over flight and notional internal resistance operations. We casually interviewed several Vietnamese and learned of the Sacred Sword legend. The sword was said to rest at the bottom of a NVN lake (known as Sword Lake). It was said to have been placed there to be used only by those individuals or groups that would rally the people against despotic rulers and outside invaders. Allegedly, it was used in a former dynastic period and returned to the lake.
Weisshart is mentioned by Thomas L. Ahern, Jr. in the 2005 declassified Center for the Study of Intelligence secret publication: The Way We Do Things: Black Entry Operations Into North Vietnam, 1961-1964. The author mentions the SSPL just in passing as a minor part of the duties of the CIA sabotage teams introduced into
. North Vietnam
In May 1963, CIA Headquarters sent Herbert Weisshart, a covert political action specialist, to
Saigonto set up a notional resistance movement. Invoking Vietnamese mythology, it was to be called the Sacred Sword Patriots' League (SSPL). It would provide an ostensible sponsor for real teams on the ground and, if all went well, would provoke paranoia in the Democratic hierarchy. The first team trained for this multiple mission included ethnic Hmong and Republicof Vietnam Team EASY parachuted into the Democratic Thai. near the Laotian border, on 11 August 1963, and soon came up on the air. Republicof Vietnam
Team SWAN had the same training and a similar multiple mission to spread SSPL leaflets while collecting intelligence and hitting sabotage targets. But it had much less luck. Jumping on 4 September into the area of Cao Bang, in the northern reaches of the Democratic
, it was promptly seized by security elements. All the station knew, for the moment, was that it failed to come up on the air. Republicof Vietnam
Mervyn Roberts also mentions Weisshart in his 2016 report: United States psychological operations in support of counterinsurgency: Vietnam, 1960 to 1965:
Herbert Weisshart, a covert political action specialist, arrived in Saigon in March 1963 to organize a notional resistance movement for the CIA. Weisshart had experience providing PSYOP support to notional teams in China and later helped to draft OPLAN 34A that transferred the covert operations in Vietnam to the military. Appealing to Vietnamese mythology, Weisshart created the Secret Sword of the Patriots League (SSPL). In 1428, this mythological sword had been delivered to the tale's hero by a turtle swimming in a Hanoi lake. With this sword, the Vietnamese were able to defeat the invading Chinese. Weisshart hoped to create dissension between the Vietnamese and Chinese by utilizing this image. He recalled that it would provide an ostensible sponsor for real teams on the ground and, if all went well, would provoke paranoia in the DRV hierarchy. To support this program Weisshart developed operations like Operation Loki, where captured North Vietnamese fishermen were indoctrinated into believing they were in an area controlled by the notional resistance movement SSPL.
Under Operation Loki, North Vietnamese fisherman were kidnapped and brought to Cu Lao Cham Island, or Paradise Island, off Da Nang. They were indoctrinated at an SSPL resistance camp notionally located in North Vietnam. The men were held several days and then sent home with PSYOP-themed gift baskets. Reportedly, some fishermen sought to be kidnapped to receive the medical treatment provided and, according to later SOG commander John K. Singlaub, a chance to gain an average of over 20 pounds during their ordeal. Some of the fisherman knew exactly where they were, having visited the island during the course of their lives. Eventually, SOG had to limit the number of times a man could be kidnapped. In light of this, it is unlikely the overt purpose for the camp succeeded. However, it may have provided other intangible benefits later in the war when the program was used to disseminate faulty intelligence.
Richard H. Shultz Jr. Says in The Secret War Against Hanoi, New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 1999:
The psywar that SOG carried out against North Vietnam included the following operations: the creation of a notional or fabricated resistance movement, known as the Sacred Sword of the Patriotic League (SSPL), whose purpose was to foster the impression that a well-organized resistance movement was active in North Vietnam; and the indoctrination of North Vietnamese detainees at Paradise Island. Started in 1965, the latter operation sought to convince kidnapped North Vietnamese fishermen that the SSPL was real and that they had been taken to a liberated part of North Vietnam.
The official cover story for the operation is told in the SOG history:
The Sacred Sword Patriots League (Guom Thieng Ai Quoc) is a notional organization, utilized as a cover for US/GVN Maritime and Psychological Operations against North Vietnam. Supposedly, The Sacred Sword Patriots League is a group of dissident, nationalistic Vietnamese striving to free their beleaguered country from the grip of all who oppress her. The present membership if approximately 10,000 people, both active and passive, and includes almost 1,600 regular militia. The membership is located mostly in North Vietnam and is organized into activity zones. At present, the major actions of the SSPL have taken place in areas of the North Vietnamese Panhandle, close to the Leagues safe zones located below the 19th parallel. Its present actions consist of radio broadcasts (VOSSPL) from a station in one of these safe zones, maritime operations conducted by CSS/NAD, detention of fishermen at PARADISE, and psychological operations involving leaflets and letters.
Evolution of the SSPL.
The roots of the SSPL can be traced back to the anti-French, nationalistic movement of the 1930s and 40s. Many present members of the SSPL were formerly with the Viet Minh, the Vietnam Quoc Dan Dong (VNQDD), and the Dai Viet nationalist parties. Towards the late 1940s the power of the Communists began to grow in the nationalistic movement, and, by the early 1950s, their strength became all too obvious.
In February 1953, a terror wave, designed to eliminate all the non-communist resistance leaders, forced many of the true nationalists to flee for their lives. Le Quoc Hung and many others sought sanctuary in the remote highlands of Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces. Here, on 17 April 1953, in one of these hidden areas, seven nationalistic leaders met and formed the Sacred Sword Patriots League. This historic meeting later became known as The Soldiers Conference.
Following Dien Bien Phu in late May, l954, Le Quoc Hung and his followers attempted to raise support for their nationalistic movement. The horror of the Land Rent Reduction and Land Reform Campaigns rallied many people to their side. A revolt was staged in Nghe An Province, but was ruthlessly squashed by the Lao Dong Partys troops. The battered new organization was forced underground. Secret cells were formed in many villages and hamlets and secret training areas were set up. These later became the Leagues safe zones.
In December 1961, the League held its first National Congress at which Le Quoc Hung was named President and under the hand of Hoang Chinh Nghia, the SSPL Manifesto was drafted. In July 1962, the Leagues militia was unified under Nguyen Thanh Le and in early 1964; the Leagues first printing plant became operational. At the second National Congress, Le Quoc Hung retired in favor of Hoang Chinh Nghia. The membership of the SSPL in 1965 had risen to 7,000. In April 1965, the Voice of the SSPL began broadcasting words of hope and freedom from its secure location in Ha Tinh Province and Indoctrination of selected people throughout NVN in the precepts of the SSPL was begun at PARADISE.
The Third National Congress in December 1967 re-elected Hoang Chinh Nghia as President. The SSPL militia had grown to 1,600 with a total membership in the SSPL of 10,000.
Support of the SSPL. The SSPL is supported by patriots from many different countries, and is, in fact, anti-US. The League has friends in the Vietnamese communities in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taiwan, France, and many other locations. The SSPL is willing to accept help from anyone who is against the type of exploitation of free people that the United States, Red China, and the Soviet Union are currently perpetrating in Vietnam.
Policies and Goals of the SSPL. In the eyes of the SSPL, the Vietnamese War has turned into a struggle between the Communist world powers (The Lao Dong Party) and the Capitalist world powers (the Thieu/Ky regime). The Vietnamese people are caught in the middle. It is the purpose of the League to work for the people, and against those who bring harm to Vietnam. The SSPL supports two Pillars for Peace, Removal and Reparation. They seek a halt in the US bombing of the Vietnamese people, a removal of all the NVN forces from South Vietnam, and of all foreign troops from Vietnam. In addition, they seek payment from the major powers to rebuild their war torn country. The SSPL blames the Lao Dong Party for the continuing Vietnamese hardships and the unfavorable status of the Vietnamese nation. These conditions are a direct result of the LDPs close ties with Peking and the war policies being demanded by Peking in return for support of the LDP. In general, its views are nationalistic, in favor of unification, against the fratricidal fighting, and against any attempts at exploiting the Vietnamese people.
Before we leave this part of the history, I should point out that other Top-Secret – Sensitive documents from SOG show that there were considerable problems and debates between Washington, the Chiefs or Staff, the Navy, and SOG about what should be done and how it should be done. Some officials thought the U.S. Navy should run the program while others thought the Vietnamese should run it since the organization was supposed to be a patriotic Vietnamese group. American sailors might be seen or even captured and that would not help the program. There were arguments about how many prisoners (or “guests” if you prefer) should be taken and how many the island could host at any given time. I am going to add some of the comments from this document below, they are in no order and just give an idea of how complicated the mission was. These comments are random but show that things did not always run as smoothly as we might suppose. This is a peak behind the curtain where we see what was really going on.
The first discretionary authority was granted to CINCPAC in January 1965. CINCPAC was authorized to approve separate LOKI (junk capture) missions to meet Intelligence requirements. Further extension of these authorities was granted in November 1965. CINCPAC was authorized to employ the PTPs in shipping interdiction missions and to deliver psychological leaflets by 81mm mortar rounds at his discretion.
One hundred and seventy missions sortied over a period of 356 possible operational days during 1965. MAROPS missions effected the capture of 126 prisoners, the destruction of more than 50 enemy Junks and damage to 19 enemy vessels, including three patrol craft. Forty-nine bombardment and 25 psychological harassment (PSYHAR) missions were considered successful. 13 deliveries of gift kits, radios and psychological warfare materials were fulfilled. One thousand radios were delivered, 28,752 gift kits dispensed, and 1,124,600 leaflets dispensed by 81 MM mortar. MINT/LOKI operations were approximately 50 percent successful.
In compliance with the concept of non-attributability to US sponsorship of actions in NVN territory, US assigned personnel were not permitted to accompany nor participate in actions north of the 17th parallel line of demarcation. Planning and operational control were retained by the United States Government. Operations included but were not limited to interdiction and harassment accomplished by interception, capture, interrogation, and destruction, as appropriate, of North Vietnamese logistic craft and armed junks; bombardment of coastal targets and cross-beach operations Involving "sea-commando" teams; and delivery of psychological warfare material including propaganda leaflet, radios, and gift kits.
OPERATIONS – In 1966 maritime operations accounted for 2,000,600 psychological harassment (PSYHAR) Leaflets Distributed by 81mm Mortar, 60,000 PSYHAR Gift Kits Delivered, and 2,600 PSYHAR Radios Delivered.
The NASTP-Class PTF was an 80-foot, 80-ton diesel-powered, mahogany hulled craft capable of speeds up 7 to 40 knots, with cruising range of 860 to 1,050 miles depending on speed. [The most potent of SOG's Maritime resources were the PTFs, the so called "Nasty" Class motor gunboats built by Batservice Verft A/S in Mandal, Norway.] It was believed that this type craft could be operated as non-attributable to the United States and would greatly improve the capability to conduct covert marine operations.
In 1967, a total of 101 missions were conducted for the purpose of capturing prisoners. A total of 328 prisoners were captured on 56 missions. Thus, an average of approximately 6 prisoners were captured per mission and approximately 56% of the missions were successful. Therefore, to furnish 100 prisoners per month to paradise Island, which is the number expected to be processed each month, a total of 16 successful missions per month should be conducted (16 x 6 = 96 prisoners per month). Only 56% of the missions can be expected to be successful. To arrive at the total number of missions which should be scheduled: 16 successful 12. missions = .56 (total missions to be scheduled) or 28 missions per month.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff imposed restraint on the employment of detainees for intelligence and defection operations. To obtain JCS approval for such employment in cases where large scale defection operations are not involved, unrealistic and limits the effectiveness of PLOWMAN. Operations have been limited by this JCS imposed restraint. A JCS decision can be acquired in sufficient time to plan the return of detainees for intelligence or defector operations. Once these personnel are earmarked for this type of operation, additional training Is required. Decisions from JCS should be expected in less time than it takes to provide this required training.
PLOWMAN PSYOP in support of the SSPL program have been successful in that they have provided the only personnel for personal Indoctrination and have distributed, on a personal basis, SSPL gifts and literature. Intelligence derived, while generally low-level, has included some significance and represented the only human intelligence (HUMINT) from the coastal provinces of NVN.
Most prisoners captured, both for SSPL and intelligence purposes, have been from a small area, 93% of all captured during 1967 were from two of the six PLOWMAN operation areas. The success of the PLOWMAN operations is dependent on the training of the Vietnamese personnel. However, training of PTF crews in operational tactics is insufficient to insure the most optimum results from each mission. Although PLOWMAN operations are covert, launching a mission is easily visible to anyone and tracks to the Operational areas are not always outside radar range of the NVN coast.
PLOWMAN psychological operations have achieved a significant impact in NVN by providing the coastal fishing population with evidence of an alternative to communist suppression, exacerbating strains between the population and the government and party structure, and varying degrees and modes of concern at the several levels of NVN leadership at the existence of dissident elements in the NVN population.
PLOWMAN operations appropriate to the original mission occur in coastal waters south of 20 degrees 30 minutes North Latitude. CADO missions of destruction [Sabotage], if related to SSPL, could be counterproductive unless the NVN populace has been told that SSPL is going to destroy a specific objective in the interest of furthering the SSPL. To destroy targets which do not enhance SSPL could produce a fear of the SSPL In the minds of the populace.
The JCS authorized CINCPAC to approve and execute the following missions. DRIFT. Distribution of gift kits and transistor radio ashore and offshore. (b) CADO. Psychological deception operations executed by agents infiltrated and exfiltrated by rubber boats launched from PTFs, on isolated stretches of the NVN coast. SWALLOW missions are team captures ashore. LOKI and SWALLOW (Junk and shore kidnap) operations were considered the most lucrative from the viewpoint of accomplishment. The operations were recognized as a "primary source of information on activities within the DRV and additionally were considered effective beyond actual damage created, in causing constant alert of NVN shore defenses and burdensome concern that an attack was imminent at any place along the coast south of the 20th parallel.
PSYWAR - The psychological warfare program was introduced including leaflet bombardment and delivery of gift kits, supported by related 'radio propaganda and news broadcasts, and thorough indoctrination of NVN prisoners to be later returned NVN.
Emphasis was shifted from traffic interdiction to support of psychological warfare operations in early 1968, as additional restrictions were introduced prohibiting destruction of Junks less than 10 meters in length, unless they were determined to be carrying military supplies or an uncommon amount of foodstuff or cargo. Smaller junks obviously employed in fishing were spared. Detention of NVN fishermen was discontinued 3 April by JCS order and 81mm leaflet distribution confined to south of 20°N. On 6 April leaflet bombs were further limited to 19°N by CINCPAC. Gift distributions were similarly restricted on 10 April. The 16 April message also curtailed MAROPS to permit only coastal 12 reconnaissance south of 19°N and detainee return missions, N0 MORE than 20 to 23 detainees at one time were authorized at the Paradise Island Camp with length of detention period reduced. Rules of engagement were eased on 1 June to permit destruction 19 of waterborne logistic craft below 19°N and collection of 20 detainees was again authorized In July. The last detainee was returned to North Vietnam 22 October 1968.
Location of Cu Lao Cham Island
Cu Lao Cham Island
Paradise Island was actually Cu Lao Cham located south of the 17th Parallel, well inside the waters of the Republic of South Vietnam.
John L. Plaster also mentions the operation in SOG: The Secret Wars of Americas Commandos in Vietnam, Simon and Schuster, 1997. He tells of North Vietnamese fisherman being kidnapped at sea and taken to a remote village:
In a small cove stood an ordinary looking North Vietnamese fishing village, except a bamboo stockade encircled it, as in the old anti-French liberation war days, and over it flew not the North Vietnam Communist flag, but the large blue and white banner of what they had been told was the Sacred Sword of the Patriotic League.
"This is liberated territory," their guide boasted as they pulled up to the dock. "You are welcome here brothers."
Camp Dodo, Paradise Island
(Photos courtesy of MSG Kenneth Mancil)
SOG documents expand on the description:
Located off the coast southeast of Da Nang, operations commenced in May 1964, as a detention center for captured fishermen to indoctrinate them in the precepts of the SSPL and then return them to NVN. The code name for the US complex constructed in 1965 on Paradise Island was DODO. It included the US and Vietnamese Command Posts, Nung Security Force Camp, and medical, supply and administration facilities.
Headquarters of the notional organization, SSPL, was located on an Island purportedly in North Vietnam. Actually an island off the coast of South Vietnam, near Danang, was used by SOG PSYOP (operation terminated 2 Dec 1968). The island, called Paradise, consists of three camps. A small camp called DODO was the base for the US personnel (three officers and four enlisted men). The camp was well separated from the other camps and was principally a support base where the US Advisors could communicate with and assist the Vietnamese camp commander. The second camp, PHOENIX, was the delivery point for prisoners captured through marine operations. Its capacity was 90 to 150. It was operated by 3 Vietnamese who represent the SSPL and who both interrogated the POWs for intelligence for SOG intelligence and indoctrinated them with the program of the SSPL. The third camp, separated by heavy foliage and several kilometers, was D36 where more thorough indoctrination was conducted. The camp, with a capacity of 50, was reserved for those selected prisoners who had shown a desire to join the SSPL and were to be tasked to perform an intelligence or PSYOP function upon return to NVN. In addition to being interrogated and indoctrinated, the prisoners were also employed in making chopsticks along with other small items such as thread, needles, and twine, were used in gift parcels containing propaganda material that were handed to the boats detained by marine operations, and also given to prisoners when they were returned to their homes. All POWs were returned to NVN with the exception of those who requested assistance in defecting to South Vietnam. With the exception of the small advisory staff, on the island, all operations were conducted by members of the STD who were specially trained Vietnamese intelligence and psychological operations. The primary objective of capturing prisoners and leading them to believe that they were captives or the SSPL was to establish credibility for the organization.
A report of operations on Paradise Island from 1964 through 1968 was prepared by MACSOG in early 1969:
General History. Operations were initiated on PARADISE in May 1964 under control of the Vietnamese Coastal Security Service (CSS). After capture, detainees were landed at PHOENIX, where they were detained and interrogated for military intelligence and low level political, social, and economic information. The detainees were led to believe that they had been captured by a group of NVN patriots (SSPL) dissatisfied with the policies of the Lao Dong Party. Following interrogation, they were indoctrinated in the precepts of the SSPL. In May 1965, a US advisory team from OP-33 was installed at DODO to assist Strategic Technical Service (STS) Psywar personnel in processing detainee information and improving interrogation and indoctrination procedures. During 1965, temporary structures were built at DODO to house US/Vietnamese operations and fiftyfive man Nung force hired to provide security for operations. Three subgroups, consisting of three or four bamboo huts each resembling types found in the hills of NVN, were constructed high in the hills behind PHOENIX and DODO.
The purpose of these new locations was to separate detainees during the indoctrination stage and lend credibility to the guise that the SSPL secret zone was located in the highlands of NVN. In 1966 and 1967, DODO facilities were expanded and three additional subgroups were added. Also, a Base Camp was constructed between DODO and the subgroups to alleviate supply and administration problems and to provide an operational area for use of the interrogators and indoctrinators in preparation of reports. There were no major changes in operational methods until 1 July 1968, when Joint Chiefs of Staff direction limited the number of detainees captured in one week to ten and the detention period to fourteen days. At this time, the PHOENIX site was abandoned as a detention site and detainees were landed at an isolated beach, Bai Xep, and taken directly to the subgroups where interrogation and indoctrination were accomplished. From August 1968 until termination of activities in October 1968, additional facilities were constructed at PARADISE to include a new command post, dispensary, supply building, defensive structures, and a new Subgroup. On 21 October 1968, the last detainee was returned to North Vietnam as directed by CINCPAC. On 10 December 1968, all US personnel were removed from PARADISE by direction of Chief, SOG. PARADISE was placed in a caretaker status under control of the senior Vietnamese representative from the Strategic Technical Directorate (formerly STS) Psywar Branch.
Operations. From the beginning of operations in 1964 until l July 1968, all detainees were landed at Phoenix and detained for a period of time in bamboo huts located 50-200 meters from the ocean. Detainees were blindfolded, and moved to the detention area where extensive interrogations were conducted. An indoctrination phase followed in which the detainees were taught the history goals and activities of the SSPL.
Detainees indicating a desire to assist or join the SSPL were given low level missions in NVN in support of SSPL activities or to collect intelligence. The period of detention varied but was generally a matter of a few months. As many as 120 fishermen were in the camp in 1966 and 1967. Additional subgroups were constructed in the mountains starting in 1965, and the indoctrination phase was moved there. Between 1 July 1968 and 21 October 1968 (when all operations ceased) detainees were moved directly to the subgroup areas bypassing the Phoenix site. During this period the number of detainees captured per week was limited by Washington directive to ten and the detention period to fourteen days.
Indoctrination of detainees was divided into three phases: group indoctrination, individual indoctrination, and group discussion. In the indoctrination phase the detainee group was lectured thoroughly on the history, organization and precepts of the SSPL. Both the Lao Dong party (NVN) and the Chinese Communist party were heavily criticized. A firm stand was taken against the US role in South Vietnam coupled with the proposal that all Vietnam be united without outside influence. Current policies of both sides in the war were reviewed and contrasted to a platform of peace, unity, and prosperity for the Vietnamese people. The second phase, individual indoctrination, was a continuation of the above process with the individual detainees though brought out in the discussions. The final phase, group discussions, resembled the Communist cell technique of using members of the group to criticize NVN policies.
In a Vietnamese-language article entitled Coastal Raiders translated by Donald C. Brewster, Tran Do Cam talks about Vietnamese psychological operations. In regard to the Sacred Sword of the Patriotic League he says:
Missions to capture fishermen for the purpose of indoctrination began on May 27, 1964. In this operation a fast patrol boat and a Swift captured a fishing junk in the waters off Dong Hoi. Six fishermen along with their junk were brought to a place called Cu Lao Cham Island which was located off the coast of
Da Nang. In an effort to win their support, the fishermen were treated very kindly and were well fed. On June 2nd, the fishermen and their junk were returned to where they were captured and they brought along with them the various gifts of cloth, food and plastic utensils, etc., that they had been given during their stay.
During 1967 we undertook a special psychological warfare program. For a period of almost three months we captured more than 300 fishermen in the area from Dong Hoi to Thanh Hoa. We took two individuals from every village. After delivering them to Cu Lao ChÃ m we made sure that they were well fed. Each person ate a half chicken every day, and after three months was plump and had a healthy complexion. We took them back, each to his hometown, to see what the reaction would be both locally and by the regime in
. It came as no surprise to us during the next six months that when we tried to capture the same individuals again, they were nowhere to be found. After almost nine months had passed we finally captured one fellow who sighed: you folks hurt us. When you released us the local government officials noticed that we were fat so they put us in the thought reform camps and just released us. North Vietnam
Ex-PSYOP Trooper Mervyn Edwin Roberts III, PhD, says in: Let the Dogs Bark: The Psychological War in Vietnam, 1960-1968, forthcoming from the University Press of Kansas, 2018:
Under Operation Loki, kidnapped North Vietnamese fishermen were brought to Cu Lao Cham Island, or Paradise Island, ten miles off Da Nang. They were indoctrinated at an SSPL resistance camp notionally located in North Vietnam. The men were held several days and then sent home with PSYOP-themed gift baskets that included information products, soap and other useful goods. Reportedly, some fishermen sought to be kidnapped to receive the medical treatment provided, and according to later Studies and Observations Group (SOG) commander Colonel John K. Singlaub, a chance to gain an average of over 20 pounds during their ordeal. Some also knew exactly where they were, having visited the island during the course of their lives. Eventually, SOG, the successor to the CIA in these operations, had to limit the number of times a man could be kidnapped? As part of the increased emphasis on the SSPL program, infiltration teams in the North began to assume a secondary mission of psychological warfare. The first dual mission team, code named Easy, parachuted into the North on 11 August 1963. While collecting intelligence, the team spread SSPL leaflets. Other teams carried special single-use leaflet mortars to disseminate product after their sabotage mission was complete.
Shultz tells how the SSPL was said to have gone into the mountains to fight on for freedom. He adds, "The names of the fictitious leaders of the Sacred Sword organization included individuals who has Le as either a family name or a given name. For example, the founder of the SSPL was Le Quoc Hung."
MACVSOG also produced a marching song for the mythical organization:
A SSPL marching song was written and produced entitled Let Us Rise Up Ardently and Liberate our Nation. The song was sung by the island choral group, the singing fishermen (detainees who recorded songs for SSPL radio).
Duy Lap Nguyen adds in: The Unimagined Community: Imperialism and culture in South Vietnam, Manchester University Press, 2020:
The Sacred Sword of the Patriots League (SSPL) radio stations were established in Hue and Thu Duc, transmitting hours of programming by the "Voice of the Sacred Sword" broadcast, supposedly from a clandestine base in Ha Tinh. The contents of the radio programs consisted of phony communications and orders to local committees, instructions to the general population on techniques for resisting the government, reports on enemy casualties, and lurid accounts of corruption and scandal in the Communist party. The station also played patriotic music, including an ardent marching song, "Let us Rise Up Ardently and Liberate our Nation," which was composed as part of the PSYOP Campaign - The programming was periodically interrupted for realistic affect. Radio operations were shut down temporarily, to allow broadcasters, supposedly, to evade detection by Communist patrols. To expand the audience for SSPL propaganda, thousands of fixed-frequency radios, bearing the insignia of the organization (an image of the sacred sword of Le Loi) were distributed through covert air operations over North Vietnamese territory.
The MACSOG documentation study - psychological operations, 10 July 1970, also mentions the operation. Some pertinent comments are:
This Appendix discusses the psychological operations directed by MACSOG from January 1964 to mid-1969. These operations were referred to simply as "Psychological Operations" until the code name "HUMIDOR" was assigned in 1967 to those activities or the Psychological Group directed against North Vietnam. Included under HUMIDOR were black and white (gray) radio operations, leaflet and gift kit operations, black letter operations, and Paradise Island (ostensibly the headquarters of the Sacred Sword Patriots League (SSPL)) operations.
Over 31,000,000 leaflets and 33,000 gift kits were introduced into North Vietnam in 1964. Leaflets were normally delivered by C-123 aircraft. However, during December. 14.5 million Sacred Sword Patriots League leaflets were dropped along the coastal strip using auto-rotation leaflets designed to drift from offshore release points from an altitude of 5,000 to 9,000 feet. The Voice of the Sacred Sword Patriots League (Channel B) commenced operating in April 1965 using the Voice of Freedom short-wave transmitter in Hue. The radio represented the voice of a dissident nationalistic organization in North Vietnam. The general themes of the scripts were anti-Peking, anti-present North Vietnam policies, and pro-negotiations. In November 1966, the Voice of Sacred Sword Patriots League broadcasting commenced from the new transmitters at Thu Duc outside of Saigon.
SSPL Identity Card
Shultz illustrates an SSPL membership card. The text in Vietnamese is:
The SSPL Southern Committee No. 1109/CMT/NB
The SSPL Southern Committee certifies: The bearer is a member having the secret number_____ grade hardcore military cadre of the SSPL Southern Committee entrusted with the mission to make relations, develop and coordinate activities with diverse secret cells in the whole southern region. The strict assistance on all aspects from our agencies to him will be warmly welcomed.
FOR THE SPPL SOUTHERN
MEMBER FOR CURRENT AFFAIRS
The membership card is also depicted and stamped Secret in John L. Plasters SOG a Photo History of the Secret War, Paladin Press, Boulder, CO, 2000. The author says:
As part of a deception program, SOG published Sons of the Sword Patriot League membership cards for planting on enemy bodies.
Major General John K. Singlaub
MG John K. Singlaub, Commander of the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force (MACV SOG) in Vietnam mentions the operation in Hazardous Duty, Summit Books, NY, 1991:
The primary mission of Op-33 was to foster and exploit discontent among the North Vietnamese military and civilians. We approached this task in several ways. From debriefing NVA prisoners and "ralliers" who had come over to the ARVN as part of the Chieu Hoi program, we learned considerable detailed information about corrupt Communist officials in the North Even though we didn't have a viable resistance movement up there, we used our Sacred Sword deception to create one.
A "Black" radio transmitter near Hue broadcast a realistically clandestine program to northerners, which was often disrupted when the "resistance" operators had to shut down to evade Communist patrols. Besides broadcasting enemy casualty figures, the "Patriot" station pounded relentlessly at venal and immoral Communist cadre who not only diverted funds, but also seduced the young wives of NVA soldiers in the south.
Another interesting Op-33 program was called Paradise Island and depended on the Op-31 Maritime group. South Vietnamese commandos would abduct North Vietnamese fishermen or peasants from coastal villages and take them by boat to an island near Danang. Our camp was a fortified hamlet facing the sea with no view toward the mainland. All the personnel were Vietnamese and the buildings were constructed in the distinctive style of northern coastal villages. But the similarity to North Vietnam stopped there. The hamlet was disguised as a "liberated zone" in the north held by the patriots, who proudly flew their own flag bore the bamboo stockade.
Kenneth Conboy and Dale Andrade report that Singlaub was critical of leaflet drops over North Vietnam. Since American planes were flying over North Vietnam and the leaflets were known to be American with themes that were all "white" propaganda, Singlaub asked why SOG was involved. He felt that SOG should be involved in covert propaganda and the leaflets were a waste of manpower and assets. The leaflet drops continued.
Clandestine radio was also a valuable tool in this PSYOP campaign. Carl Rowan, Director of the United States Information Agency sent a message to the President on 21 April 1964. He said, "Black radio operations have now been expanded to a total of 14 hours per day on two frequencies; white radio activities are carried on for two hours daily while gray transmitters broadcast six hours per day in Cantonese and 20 hours in Vietnamese. In addition, airborne transmitters over the Gulf of Tonkin broadcast for 3 1/2 hours daily, usually repeating black radio broadcasts. Each of these broadcasts is carried on two different frequencies. The success of those broadcasts devoted to the national Sacred Sword Patriotic League is attested by a report that, early in July, 17 Catholic men and women put to sea from Nghe An Province in the hope that SSPL boats would capture them.
Over a thousand fixed frequency radios and several hundred rice bowls, the latter bearing the symbol of the SSPL, are given to fishermen on junks stopped and searched by the patrol torpedo fast boats (PTF's)."
The actual radio station used in this deception was called "Voice of the Sacred Sword." The station claimed to be broadcasting from Ha Tinh Province (Le Loi's home province), however, it was really transmitted from American bases in South Vietnam. Prior to 1967 the SSPL radio was south of the demilitarized zone. After June 1967, the Voice of the SSPL was relayed to a U.S. Navy NC-121 over the Tonkin Gulf to confuse the North Vietnamese radio direction finding equipment.
SOG documents tell us more about the radio broadcasts:
Channel B (Voice of the Sacred Sword Patriots League). This was scheduled for activation in the summer of 1964. (In fact, its first broadcast was delayed until April 1965.) The concept of Channel B broadcasts was to support all aspects of the SSPL resistance movement by broadcasting news and instructions to provincial resistance committees, appeals and instructions in resistance techniques to the general population, and harassment messages to DRV security force elements.
The website of the Vietnamese Coastal Security Service (CSS), Sea Commando and Underwater Demolition SEALs Teams adds:
The Coastal Security Service captured 1200 North Vietnamese fishermen and Communists. Some were selected and brought back through the Phoenix program and trained to become "Sleeper Agents". The Sleeping Agents usually were the ones who were not happy with the Communist Party. "Sleeper Agents" were then transferred to camp DoDo for indoctrination of Sacred Sword of the Patriotic League (SSPL). SSPL was a front and was operated by Strategic Technical Directorate (STD) agents. During that time, the Voice of Freedom Radio and Sacred Sword of the Patriotic League Radio used CSS provided information for propaganda purposes.
The STD SEAL Headquarters created different types of flyers with propaganda information. CSS dropped these flyers and gift packs to the people of North Vietnam under the name of Sacred Sword of the Patriotic League.
US Army Intelligence Agent MSG Kenneth Mancil served in Vietnam from December 1966 to December 1967. He spent the entire year on Cu Lao Cham (Paradise) Island. He was a Vietnamese linguist and his primary military occupational specialty (MOS) was Intelligence Analyst.
HQs Building, Camp Dodo, Paradise Island
(Photos courtesy of MSG Kenneth Mancil)
Speaking of the camps on the island he said:
Americans lived and worked in this camp. We had several translators and about 200 CIA paid Chinese mercenaries doing guard duty. There were no prisoners at Camp Dodo. The only permanent structure was the main headquarters building where we had our Operations and Communications Center as well as living quarters for the Americans. It was built about 100 feet from the beach in a U-shape, facing the beach, one story, and constructed of cinder blocks and cement. It was a place that offered protection from the elements. We had one secure room where the communications equipment was kept. In total, there were about 6 or 7 thatch buildings in addition to the headquarters. These housed the Vietnamese and Chinese personnel. The beach was almost completely sealed off with a coral reef, with just one area open so small boats could pull up to the shore. We really did not worry too much about security from enemy penetration, therefore we did not have barbed wire surrounding the camp. The only access would have to come from the beach, and that would have been most difficult in light of the coral reef. The beach area was under constant guard, and we had no incidents during my year there.
Camp Phoenix was located about 1 mile north of Camp Dodo and it was there that all the prisoners were kept. The Biet Hai (Sea Commandoes) made raids into North Viet Nam and brought the prisoners back to the island for interrogation and other PSYOP purposes. We Americans were not allowed to go to Camp Phoenix because the prisoners were told that they were still in North Vietnam and they had been captured by the Sacred Sword Patriot League, which was a fictitious outfit representing the underground movement in North Vietnam. Our main objective was to compile the interrogation reports into intelligence reports. I have no pictures of Camp Phoenix where the prisoners were detained. Americans were not allowed to go near Camp Phoenix.
We also had another camp up on the mountain, but I only trekked up that hill on two occasions! I do not excel at climbing mountains!
The dodo is an extinct bird that once lived on Madagascar Island off the coast of Africa. The bird was very plump and tasty and could not fly. Passing sailors and explorers had very little trouble killing and eating this little morsel, and it was not many years before he became extinct. Camp Dodo was so named, because like the dodo bird, it did not exist!
The Phoenix was a mythical bird that died by diving into a huge fire, and then it would rise again from the ashes. Camp Phoenix was so named because of the hope that the people of North Vietnam would rise up against the Communist regime.
Paradise Island was, and still, is a beautiful place.I enjoyed the tour at Camp Dodo very much, except when we could not get a boat to bring our supplies. The entire area was a "no fly zone", and during the stormy season we sometimes had to literally "live off the land" by fishing, hunting, and trapping those tasty lizards. We had one period of time for about three weeks where our supply boat could not make it out from Danang due to the weather. I did finally manage to develop a taste for roasted monkey, lizard and snake meat. I went to Paradise Island weighing about 175 pounds and when I departed I weighed 145 pounds.
I am proud to say that I was awarded the Legion of Merit for my participation in this operation.
As we said earlier, Paradise Island was the site of the fake SSPL village. This operation was called "Project Humidor." A false fishing village was created on a small island off South Vietnam in which North Vietnam fisherman were kidnapped, blindfolded and taken to by high speed "Nasty" boats. "Nasty" boats were built by Westermoen in Norway. They had two diesel Napier engines which gave the boats speeds up to 40 knots. Not familiar with the high speed of the boats that transported them, the captive fisherman thought they were still in North Vietnam waters. These captured fisherman were then treated to a feast of food and told how the village belonged to an anti-Communist resistance group known as "The Sacred Sword of the Patriot League". The captured villagers were returned to North Vietnamese waters after being given false clues concerning conspiracies, secret agents and saboteurs, to be passed on to enemy counterintelligence officers who were certain to debrief them. SOG experts interlocked these clues with other evidence ranging from phony radio transmissions sent to nonexistent agents, to secret instructions hidden in a fisherman's gift bundle which would be found by counterintelligence officers. On top of this SOG agents planted Patriotic League leaflets along North Vietnamese roads and trails while C-123s aircraft airdropped resupply bundles to phantom resistance units. The harder the enemy pursued the Patriot League, the more confused they became, for a while even suspecting that it was the Soviets who were the Patriot Leagues secret sponsor.
Shultz says, "The detainees stayed in the liberated coastal villages for approximately three weeks. During this period, they met only Vietnamese who spoke with a northern dialect. In 1966, its most active year, 353 North Vietnamese were cycled through Paradise Island.. Between 1964 and 1968, a total of 1003 detainees were indoctrinated there." Some of the SSPL gifts were writing pads, soap, pencils, a candle, a towel, cloth, books, and pretuned radios.
Conboy and Andrade note that:
Many of the North Vietnamese fishermen were not fooled. They immediately knew from the sound of the waves and the smell of the air that they were on an island and not the mainland. In particular, one fisherman identified the island even though he had been brought to it blindfolded. He recalled that he had been on Cu Lao Cham Island twenty years earlier. He said that as soon as he disembarked from the boat and felt the texture of the sand under his feet he knew exactly where he was.
Training Center leaflet
One rather crude uncoded SSPL leaflet depicts a North Vietnamese Army training camp being bombed. The leaflet is highlighted with the explosions colored bright red. Text on the wall of the camp reads, "Training Center."
The back is all text with the symbol of the SSPL at the left. The text is:
The bombing carried out by Americans and the South Vietnamese above the 17th parallel has put more and more fear into we of the north by the hours and minutes. The cause of this situation is the fact that the Communist Party and the government continue sending troops and war materials into South Vietnam, serving as a proxy agent of China in the scheme of invading South Vietnam.
We resolve to demand the Communist Party and the government abandon this warmongering policy so that the South Vietnamese and American air forces have no more reason to bomb North Vietnam.
These SSPL leaflets are extremely scarce and this particular leaflet was found through East German sources after the fall of the Berlin Wall. During Cold War military visitations, the North Vietnamese and East Germans shared information and western PSYOP specimens. This leaflet was sent to the DDR for study and became available after the two Germanys were reunited.
Notice the sword symbol on this leaflet. Leaflet operations were divided into two sections, strategic and tactical. The symbol of the former was the Freedom Arrow, and the latter the Sword.
Another crude SSPL leaflet depicts two drawings of a Vietnamese family near their hut. In the first picture, two men and two women are shown with baskets of food. The husband cleans a chicken and a large pot is boiling in the background. The text is: "Our way of living before." In the second picture only two Vietnamese remain, and the food is on two small plates. The leaflet implies that the Communist Party and the Government have taken away the men for soldiering and the food for taxes. The text is "Our way of living now." The SSPL symbol is in the center of the leaflet and text along the bottom reads, "Please distribute this leaflet throughout Vietnam."
In October 2011, Dr. Rod Oakland wrote an article in the Falling Leaf, the journal of the Psywar Society, entitled Sacred Sword of the Patriotic League. Several of the SSPL propaganda leaflets were depicted in this article. Rod is an old friend and kindly agreed to let me add the leaflets to this article.
The first depicts a female North Vietnamese soldier with a sick soldier and an officer. The text is:
Woman: This soldier has malaria and is almost cured but wants to return to the Army.
General: He has pretended to have malaria three times and he is faking it now. He needs to confess to the committee.
The back is all text and says:
Letter to all soldiers
You are sick but you have no medicines, hungry but you have nothing to eat, and you were treated badly on the way to the South. The people who command you are living in comfort with their families. Are they cheating you? The way to the South is far and it takes three months and ten days to get there. On the way you are monitored by enemy helicopters Are you going to escape death on the way? Save your patriotic feelings and courage to defend your country rather than use it for this nonsensical war.
The Americans were aware that one of the main grievances of the Communist soldiers was being forced to confess their sins and be criticized by their fellow soldiers. Several U.S. leaflets mentioned how shameful this treatment was. The mention of malaria is also interesting because the Americans knew that many of the North Vietnamese soldiers became sick with various jungle diseases coming down the trail and there was inadequate medical treatment available. A great number of American leaflets promised medical care to any defecting North Vietnamese soldier.
The second Oakland leaflet depicts Chairman Mao smiling while United States Air Force B-52s bomb Vietnamese buildings, vehicles, bridges and troops. The same image is on the back of the leaflet. The text is:
Why does Chairman Mao laugh at the cruel situation of our people?
To all Mothers
The third Oakland leaflet depicts a soldier leaving his home while his family cries and tries to give him advice. The text on the front is:
Soldier: Mother, you always agree with them, but now you turn around and tell me to go up there and tell them that I am sick! I will not be able to escape from their clutches.
Mother: No one at the [Communist Party] meeting dares to say anything in opposition. You're smart - just do whatever you have to do!
At bottom of the cartoon: Please distribute this leaflet throughout all of Vietnam.
The back is all text and says:
To all mothers
During our earlier wars against the French and against the Chinese armies, the entire population of Vietnam stepped forward to join the army to fight the enemy in order to save our nation. Today, however, everyone opposes the current fratricidal war that China is forcing our Party and our Government to wage just so that South Vietnam can be turned over to Mao Tse-tung. That is why the Party has decided to use the military obligation ploy to force young people to go out to serve as sitting ducks for enemy bullets. Therefore the claim that mothers have "unanimously responded to Uncle Ho's appeal by urging their children and grandchildren to join the army" is a total fraud.
This is an interesting leaflet because it seems say that the Communist Party of North Vietnam is not the culprit causing grief to the people of North Vietnam. It blames the Chinese in a divide and conquer propaganda text. In WWII the British tried to convince the Germans that a radio station was inside Germany so had the propagandist call Churchill a dirty old Jew. During the Vietnam War, American propaganda constantly stated that it was not the Vietnamese people, but the Communist Party that was the blame. Here, trying to prove that the leaflet is from a North Vietnamese liberation movement, it implies the Communist Party is not to blame; it is all the fault of the evil Chinese.
Work together to stop the war
The fourth leaflet has the symbol of the Sacred Sword on one side and an all-text message on the back. It is:
We need to walk together to stop the war. War is destruction and killing while peace is happiness and fulfillment for everyone.
Destroy the Communists
The front of this leaflet depicts three ugly caricatured Communists and an elderly Buddhist monk indicated by his prayer beads. At the bottom of the leaflet there is an area of light labeled South Vietnam and the four people stand on a dark area labeled North Vietnam. An official government-appointed Communist monk marked with a hammer and sickle says to the elderly Vietnamese monk:
We want to destroy Religion
Both of the North Vietnamese Communist soldiers are holding knives so they are probably threatening the old monk and demanding that he renounce Buddhism. The Communist philosopher Karl Marx wrote that religion is the opium of the people, and this propaganda leaflet says that the Communists are anti-religious and will destroy the old traditions of Vietnam.
The back of the leaflet depicts the Sacred Sword and the text:
Destroy the Communists
Personally, I prefer to translate the SSPL symbol on the back of this final leaflet as Kill Cong.
Demand of the Party
In 2021, another leaflet was found. It is hard to say exactly what the text means but there must have been an election coming up and the people were told to demand a better life before voting. The text is:
Demand of the Party a more satisfying life before casting a vote.
Please disseminate this leaflet all over Vietnam.
Some of the technical data regarding leaflet production from SOG documents is as follows:
Leaflet Operations. The completion of new facilities at Number 7 Hong Thap Tu for the printed media section and the improvement in performance of personnel and techniques provided a steady increase in quantity and quality of leaflet and gift kit operations. The greatest problem was the delivery of printed material. Initially only C-123 aircraft and 81mm mortar shells were available for delivery. In October 1965, the authority was given to use Vietnamese A1G aircraft for leaflet and gift kit drops. The C-130 also became available in 1966. A summary of leaflet, gift kit, and radios dropped over the three-year span follows:
1965 67 million leaflets, 24,000 gift boxes, 949 radios.
1966 142 million leaflets, 80,000 gift boxes, 5000 radios.
1967 271 million leaflets, 21,000 gift boxes, 11,000 radios.
Black PSYOPS (POG). Most of the production facilities were located at #7 Hong Thap Tu Street, Saigon. This included the studios, print shop, library and secure storage vault, and the Vietnamese counterpart organization.
Speaking of the black operation, Lieutenant Colonel David G. Underhill who was with the 7th PSYOP Group on Okinawa during the Vietnam War told me that at one point he was offered the entire Studies and Operations Group's PSYOP files. For a brief time they were in his office. They were classified Restricted, and he was informed that he would have to keep them under constant lock and key if he wanted to keep them. He declined. He did surprise me when he said about the black propaganda:
There was some sexual content in the black leaflets. When I first saw them in SOG, I commented on it. Knowing the morals of the North Vietnamese I thought it was poor PSYOP. I specifically remember one that was a cartoon with two men in bed with a woman. Remember, the 4th PSYOP Group prepared a very tame white leaflet that depicted a Vietnamese woman in a bathing suit that brought a strong adverse reaction in post-testing. The girl in the picture, the enemy claimed, was a prostitute for the American soldiers.
Transmissions of Black Radio programs were from the two 20 kilowatt and one 10-kilowatt transmitters at Thu Duc and from BLUE EAGLE I and BLUE EAGLE II .
Printed Media Training
Subjects included imparting the basic knowledge of operating the following apparatus for the below listed personnel:
Eleven employees received basic operations, operators maintenance and PM indicators of the Harris Offset Press. They were instructed in the most feasible and economical methods in the production of lithograph plates, ink control, and water control. They were taught how to use the various pressure and air gauges in accordance with the applicable technical manual.
Four employees received instructions on the utilization of the Harris Power Cutter. The instructions included operations, operator maintenance, PM indicators, and replacement procedures for the cutter blade. They were taught lubrication and electrical procedures considerations in accordance with the manufacturers operator manual.
Two camera operators received basic instructions in plate making and layout. When they were hired, they were experienced cameramen. They were taught masking procedures primarily, since this is the bulk of layout and plate making.Early Leaflet and Letter Operations
Six packers were instructed on the basic principles of packaging and crating gift kits, leaflets and for air shipment. They were taught folding procedures and space utilization. They were instructed in the most feasible methods of packing to insure that material, undergoing the most turbulent shipment would arrive at its destination in a usable condition. They were also taught waterproofing procedures for maritime operations. All instructions were given in accordance with the Joint Military packing and crating manual.
With the inception of SOG, leaflet operations were divided into two sections, strategic and tactical. The symbol of the former was the "Freedom Arrow" and the latter the "Sword."
Strategic Leaflets. These leaflets were designed to stress the better life without communism. Shortages were played up and comparison was made with the abundance of consumer goods in the free world societies. Gift kits dropped with leaflets contained items known to be scarce in the DRV.
Tactical Leaflets. These operations were slow in commencing because of the need to train counterpart artists, painters, and translators. There was, additionally, a lack of sufficient current information to exploit psychological targets. Early targets for these operations were:
Slogan type messages directed toward the agricultural workers of the delta, the industrial workers, housewives, students and the intelligentsia.
Peasant farmers of Thanh Hoa, Hung Yen, and Thai Binh provinces where the governments "Land Reclamation Movement" had received great emphasis. The theme was "passive resistance to government attempts to move lowlanders to the highlands for land clearance."
The Catholics located in the urban areas near the coast. The themes were generally to keep faith and resist government attempts to de-emphasize their religious beliefs.
Distribution. Over 31,000,000 leaflets and 33,000 gift kits were introduced in DRV in 1964. Leaflets were normally delivered by C 123 aircraft flying VOR (omni-range) tracks at 500 feet. However, during December 14.5 million (SSPL) leaflets were dropped along the coastal strip using auto-rotation leaflets designed to drift from off shore release points from an altitude of 5,000-9,000 feet.
Other leaflets are described in North Vietnamese radio and newspaper stories. Some of the comments are:
In April leaflets were dropped from aircraft over Hai Thinh village (XH 273063). These leaflets were of three types. Two types had pictures of burned boats, gas tanks, and collapsed buildings. A third type, blue in color and 10 cm by 20 cm, advised people to remain clear of troop emplacements and main bridges.
Propaganda leaflets dropped in village one month ago on which was printed a photo of President Johnson. Leaflets stated DRV authorities directed by Red China to send troops to South Vietnam. If NVN wants peace, must negotiate with American authority and withdraw its troops.
Blue leaflet with Sword named Guom Thieng Ai Quoc (Sacred Sword Patriots) is familiar. Theme. Demand for increased pay for workers.
Before Tet, "Year of the Serpent", 1965 while seeking firewood, sources picked up numerous leaflets at a pine forest (Liem Bac hamlet) approximately at TBD. YD 118987. Leaflets were small and square pieces of white paper typewritten on one side. Its content said: All properties of the people were concentrated into the governments hand. Prices were fixed by state owned stores, thus the people had to buy goods expensively etc. On the other side of leaflet, was designed a sword with some words on the top of it: "The Sacred Sword for Liberation".
During the last 3 months, the people at this locality have picked up leaflets. They are as big as a hand and printed on 2 sides.
The contents of the leaflets are as follows:
Down with HO, and the lackeys of Red Chinese.
The reasons of the US and Vietnamese air strikes.
Appeal the population to keep away from the VC military locations.
Appeal the population not to permit their sons and brothers to join the VC Army.
Leaflets dropped over barracks brigade 330 (Xuan Mai) about midnight (exact date unknown) June 1963. Following morning, numerous leaflets about 8 by 12 cm found scattered throughout regimental and adjacent areas. On leaflets was drawing of wretched PAVN soldier with caption, "The life of a PAVN soldier means only shortages, and starvation. With only a pair of rubber slippers on his feet and a bamboo net on his head." Troops ordered to pick up leaflets and turn in to superiors without reading. Brigade political cadres went into all homes in area and advised people either burn leaflets or turn them in to military officials. Contrary to superior's orders, source says many enlisted men furtively reading leaflets. Although men made no comments, source stated his opinion; most men felt their lives were truly depicted on leaflets.
It could have been worse for the North Vietnamese. The Americans were never satisfied with the dissemination of their leaflets. If they had their way the North Vietnamese would have been knee-deep in them. When one studies declassified documents of the Vietnam War we find constant requests for the use of balloons against
, and in almost every case this is denied. For instance, there are numerous comment in the 1970 MACVSOG Documentation Study. We quote some pertinent comments found in the 178-page report: North Vietnam
Balloon delivery of leaflets into
North Vietnamfrom both Laosand from PTFs in the should be tested Gulfof Tonkin
The problem of penetrating the heavily populated areas of
with PSYOP material is a major obstacle to a successful psychological campaign today. Restrictions of cargo aircraft reduce the population which can be reached with this delivery system to about 20%, among which very few key-opinion formers are included. The use of high performance aircraft does not appear cost effective nor is this means of delivery a credible system for use by a dissident group. In attempting to resolve this problem, SOG recommends the launch of low cost, short range balloons, with PSYOP material from naval vessels operating close to the red River Delta coastline. Alternatively, ground launch sites in North Vietnam were recommended Laos
At present, only wind drift techniques with leaflets and air drop-water float methods with floatable items are possible. Even these methods(by cargo aircraft) are restricted to areas which are not protected by anti-aircraft fire. The net result is the denial of all of the principal population centers to SSPL penetration. Balloon delivery is the most promising system yet uncovered to solve this and presently we are awaiting CINCPAC approval of balloon operations against the North
A former SOG and 6th Psychological Operations Battalion member that took part in the operation told me:
I worked black operations in early 1967. I remember the old Navy Constellation aircraft that broadcast propaganda messages to North Vietnam (piggybacking on Radio Hanoi). It was PACKED with electronic equipment. It was, I believe, previously an Electronics Counter-measures aircraft. It flew out of Japan, but was in Long Thanh for a couple of missions. Otherwise, I think it stayed in Saigon. I flew one mission that paralleled the coastline. They had a mixed American/Vietnamese crew (at least in the broadcasting section) including a pretty good looking French-Vietnamese Female. She also worked at the Vietnamese PSYOP Radio station in Saigon.
I also recall that part of the indoctrination of the kidnapped North Vietnamese fishermen was to pick one near the end of his (forced) training and informing him that we didn't trust any of the others. We told him that we knew he was trustworthy. We told him that we had hidden some special supplies on their boat without the knowledge of the others, and that when they got back to their village he was to go to a specified hut and paint the symbol of the SSPL on the side of the hut facing the jungle so it could be seen by our commandos. The symbol would tell them that they could find their supplies buried there.
We knew that he would immediately report this to the local political commissar and the supplies would be confiscated. I never knew what we were providing but I understand it was often radio batteries, some AK47 ammunition and some old C-rations. The idea was that they would have to assume that guerrillas were coming for the pickup, or why bury the items?
We also hoped (but never knew until 30 years later!) that they would station troops in the area to ambush and capture our "commandos." This was all backed up by false radio broadcasts referring to the SSPL "fighters" and their successes! I only worked there for about 3 months, but we all had to study the history of the SSPL before getting into any of the operations.
It was all an extension of the failed OP34 (agent insertion) program designed to make it appear that the agent and commando insertions were successful, when in fact, they nailed captured or killed every single South Vietnamese agent we inserted over the earlier years. Unfortunately, Hanoi only returned a very few of the hundreds of Vietnamese agents that we sent north.
I also recall that there were some clandestine night over flights of North Vietnam where we dropped blocks of ice with embedded odd equipment like military web gear, ammunition, empty C-ration cans, etc, etc. The ice blocks and other interesting items were dropped by C-123's, all with Vietnamese crews.
The ice melted quickly and by daylight all the pieces of equipment were found and it looked like a patrol had camped overnight. This created more paranoia about a partisan anti-Communist group in that area.
They wouldn't let anyone bring cameras on the island. The fake agent school was on the far side of the island separated by some hills and surrounded by mines. Everything was compartmented, and it was all on a need to know basis.
There were some aerial propaganda leaflets made, but not by us. They were printed in Taiwan. We dropped little radios on the north. They had a single frequency, no identification either outside or on any inside transistor or part. They were totally black.
The frequency was about 1/10th of a megacycle off of Radio Hanoi so that they thought they were listening to official broadcasts. The little radios that were dropped by C-130 Blackbirds were also distributed by other SOG teams. I think we called the little radios "Peanuts," but can't remember why.
The Sacred Sword of the Patriotic League program turned out to be a huge success. It tied up thousands of North Vietnamese troops and had them thrashing around their own country trying to catch all of the SSPL commandos and secret agents.
Another member of SOG was one of five Americans stationed on Cu Lau Cham island in 1967. He mentions that the (Vietnamese) commando teams brought prisoners out to the island for interrogation. He says:
After some time, most of the prisoners were returned to their homes. The prisoners were kept in a separate camp (Camp Phoenix) in another area of the island. We were part of the Sacred Sword Patriotic League and were mostly concerned with psychological operations.
As we said at the start of this article, the Communists were never fooled or believed for a moment that there was a resistance movement within North Vietnam. They did mention the SSPL on several occasions. The following article appeared in Hoc Tap, September 1967 entitled "Resolutely Defeat the Psychological Warfare of the American Imperialists."
Because they have no diplomatic, economic, or cultural organs in the North of our country, the American imperialists have made use of radio broadcasts, leaflet drops, letters from abroad, etc., in order to fling their propaganda into the North. In addition to increasing the Vietnamese language broadcasting of the Voice of America, and in addition to the open broadcasts of the puppet regime and puppet army, the American imperialists have also set up many radio stations engaged in psychological warfare activities against the North, such as "Sacred Sword Radio," the Voice of Freedom," "Red Star Radio," "Neutrality Radio," and a "Liberation Radio." "Sacred Sword Radio" is the voice of the so called "Sacred Sword Patriotic Movement." Through this station the American imperialists and their lackeys attempt to cause the listeners to believe that that "movement," which exists only in the minds of the American imperialists and their lackeys, has organized bases against the peoples regime in a number of provinces and regions in the North. This station constantly speaks of a "revolution of liberation," of "national unity," etc. As regards news, this station presents news, which it claims to have received from the "Sacred Sword Movement" in one province or another.
A Central Intelligence Agency officer assigned to MACVSOGs Psychological Operations Group from the fall of 1969 to the summer of 1970 mentions some of the technical aspects of the program:
What we had there was a setup in which there were 12-15 middle grade Army officers who were attached to this house 7 group. This included a couple of guys who worked over in house 2 also. House 7 was a modern building that we had built and that's where the printing operation for the leaflets was and Voice of Freedom radio.
We had no direct responsibility for the leaflet operations. We budgeted for the printing operation and there were some of these military officers supervising it. Remember, this was a Vietnamese operation and we were the advisors to it. Now, the language specialists over in house 7, as I remember, worked almost entirely on the leaflet operations.
The responsibility for Paradise Island was directed by the MACVSOG group housed in what was called MACV 1. It was a four story building, a former apartment house. There were something like 175 military personnel in that building and we really had very little to do with any of them. We had one suite of offices for our four person agency group and then there was a suite of offices for the military group who worked at house 7 and house 2. So, I spent my mornings at MACV 1 on paperwork then I would have a staff meeting either at horse 7 or horse 2. House 2, almost daily.
Third country mailing was done over at house 2. House 2 was a Vietnamese Army compound and it was my understanding that it was entirely devoted to covert psychological operations.
An Army Major who was assigned as deputy director of OP39 from March 1971 to spring 1972 said when asked, "Were you there when the Sacred Sword of the Patriots League was shut down?"
Well, the radio programs, the music, the messages continued constantly. We continued to do leaflet drops in various places. They were a portion of the mail operation although not anything dramatic and of course the radio insertions kept on going until we ran out of radios. The CIA made it fairly evident that we werent going to go back, find a suitable place, and make a large purchase of radios, batteries, and the like. By that time, it was fairly evident that we were withdrawing troops, the war was on the wane as opposed to on the increase. So, all those aspects of the SSPL were alive and well. The Paradise Island aspect of it, putting real people on the ground, was gone.
When asked about the actual operation he said:
They would zip out and grab a few fishermen, take them back at dusk, blindfolded and they dont know where they are, where they've been. Of course, they're pretty well disoriented and someone's been screeching at them the whole trip. It's impossible to tell where youre at sea if you have no visual. They knew they were still in Vietnamese waters because they could look up and see the constellations, etc. Wed take them right from the beach up into the jungle and there was no way in hell you could tell where you were.
By 1969-1970 the Paradise Island operation was cranked down. The myth of the notional Secret Sword of the Patriots League was still being circulated within the writings coming out of OP39 whether it be newspaper, letters, a few leaflets and the Secret Sword of the Patriot League radio.
Genuine North Vietnamese postage stamp
There are some very exotic black operations that appear to be part of the campaign
to show that there was an extensive anti-Communist network in
To the population of the country.
We want peace, we have yielded, but the more we yield, the more French imperialists continue to encroach. They resolutely invade our country once more. We are willing to make all necessary sacrifices but will never accept the loss of our country. We will never be enslaved).
The genuine stamp depicts the last two sentences of the statement in a tablet above the marching crowd:
Chung Ta Tha Hy Sinh Tat Ca Chu Nhat Dinh Khong Chiu Mat Nuoc, Nhat Dinh Khong Lam No Le... (We are willing to make all necessary sacrifices but will never accept the loss of our country. We will never be enslaved.
Propaganda Parody of the North Vietnamese Postage Stamp
The Allies produced an almost perfect copy of the stamp which was an Appeal to
Note: The enemy has falsely printed the stamp and has replaced the appeal of President Ho Chi Minh by reactionary words. Attention must be paid to the text.
The text was changed slightly to imply that the enemy was not the French, but instead the Communist Chinese allies of the North Vietnamese:
Chung Ta Tha Hy Sinh Tat Ca Chu Nhat Dinh Khong Chiu De Trung Quoc Chiem Nuoc Dat Ach No Le... (We are willing to make all necessary sacrifices but will never accept annexation of our country by the Chinese. We will never be enslaved).
It is unknown how this stamp was used and none have been found on envelopes. We assume it was prepared to show the legitimacy of the Sacred Sword Movement.
Mention of the stamp appears in an 8 December 1967 MACV message:
The issue of a SSPL originated postage stamp modeled after a valid North Vietnamese stamp, the initial distribution to be covert. We are awaiting
approval since September 1967, (target date 7 December 1967). Washington
In the May/June 1992 Society of Indochina Philatelists Newsletter, Nguyen Bao Tung explained how he first came across this propaganda parody:
It was on the eve of the Tet festival of the Year of the Tiger, a spring morning in
Saigon, February 1974. I was in my office at 5 Pham-Viet-Chanh Street, District 2, Headquarters of the Company 34 Criminal Investigation Department - Military Police.
A close friend of mine, Lieutenant Colonel Z, came to offer me a traditional New Year's greeting. At the time I was hosting a weekly philately program on Vietnamese television in
Saigonand the previous evening I portrayed Tet Fun on Stamps. Lieutenant Colonel Z was the ex-director of the broadcast station which had been founded in 1966 and was known as The Sacred Sword Front (Guom Thien Al-Quoc).
He handed me a small envelope and said, I know you are a famous Vietnamese philatelist, but do you have this stamp? I said, I have all the North Vietnamese stamps, even this unissued one. This stamp appears to be the Yvert Catalog #533 issued on 30 January 1966. Lieutenant Colonel Z pointed at the framed slogan by Ho Chi Minh on the stamp. Look here carefully he said. I took a magnifying glass and scanned the stamp. By all appearances it was still #533. I brought the stamp home that night and opened my Yvert album to
stamps to compare with my own copy. While the design, color and perforation were entirely similar, the paper and attribution of the patriotic slogan were different. Instead of Ho Chi Minhs message to the Communist fighters 1949, it was An appeal to North Vietnam from the Sacred Sword Front 1966, thereby achieving a propaganda and psychological coup. North Vietnam
Later I met Lieutenant Colonel Z and asked him the origin of the stamp. I regret to tell you that it is a national defense secret, he said. I then knew that I had received a precious stamp. Or at least, a historic philatelic document of the Vietnam War.
The stamp mentioned in the above quote was later offered for sale at auction with a reserve of $2,000. It received a top bid of $315.
Full Sheet of 20 Propaganda Parodies of the North Vietnamese Stamp
In February 2010, Chris Lutz of Manassas, Virginia wrote to say that his grandfather was Army Lieutenant Colonel George D. French who worked on the Sacred Sword program from 1969-1971. LTC French also did some work with the CIA. Upon his death, Chris found in grandfathers papers a complete sheet of 20 of the propaganda parodies. They were printed five across and four down with wide margins all around. The sheet was sold for $6,000 on 3 March 2010.
Shortly afterwards, I heard from another
I also have possession of a complete sheet. I received my sheet from a retired UASF officer who stated: The sheet was given to me by a special forces officer named John Skidmore. He had a stack of them but didn't tell me anything about them.
Other black operations in the same message state that:
Personal letters to relatives in the South have been written by detainees at the SSPL secret zone. Letters explain the detainees status and present location as well as basic aims of the SSPL. Five different types of letters from SSPL Central Committee at various levels have been posted. The deception mail operation produced 200 letters per month of various types.
Morale messages are being dispatched over the SSPL radio to actual and notional teams in
. Such messages have great credibility as some teams are suspected to have been doubled and accurate messages from families in these cases add credence to notional teams. For example, during September 1967 radio voice messages were broadcast to substantiate existence of five notional teams. North Vietnam
The black letter program was constantly being fine-tuned. A MACVSOG comment on the subject states:
We plan to use notional leftist organizations abroad as originators of the letters, but are beginning with a true leftist Japanese fishing organization. In line with this, we are soon going to use a Paris-based Vietnamese, pro-Hanoi student organizations magazine to infiltrate subtle anti-Communist propaganda into
by making slight changes in some of the articles North Vietnam
We will experiment in the printed media field, for example; calendars, fishing hints, and tide tables are presently being obtained. Varying paper stocks are now being used.
MACVSOG kept a record of the number of detainees interrogated by the SSPL staff.
They note that there were 27 in 1964; 116 in 1965; 353 in 1966; 329 in 1967 and 178 in
1968. As stated earlier, in 1968 the joint Chiefs of Staff ordered that only 10 detainees
could be taken in a week and they could not be held for more than fourteen days. The
Hattori/Parfait: An attempt to form an SSPL organization consisting of three-man cells along the coast of
. North Vietnam
: The gift of a fishing boat to the local cooperative to make up for one promised but not delivered by the Communist government. Troy
Yellow Jacket: Placing fishermen into the mountains near
to make the North Vietnamese believe that there was a viable resistance organization within their borders. Laos
Trial of Military Detainees: The trial of captured North Vietnamese military by an SSPL court. As might be expected, they were sentenced to death for crimes against the people, and then granted clemency and released.
Agent recruiting: Detainees that appeared to honestly want to defect were taken into the organization and given minor jobs, returned to
to collect intelligence or used as subject-matter experts on North Vietnamese politics. North Vietnam
Uranolite: Infiltrating various devices into
to make the security forces search for and examine the devices. Some of the fake items would be assassination weapons and explosives, weather sensors, cheap radio receivers, and Rube Goldberg devices with a lot of electronics that did nothing. This was a general harassment program. Many empty boxes would be dropped to make the security forces think that they had been opened and emptied by members of the resistance. North Vietnam
Note: The report actually used the term Rube Goldberg he was a cartoonist who drew very involved contraptions that took 12 or 14 steps with mice, dominoes, marbles and ping-pong balls to light a match or blow out a candle.
Pollack: The incrimination of North Vietnamese officials by sending them fake coded letters with easily broken code messages. This would strain the security forces and destroy the morale of the Party officials.
Sanitaries: The use of a redemption coupon spread among the locals to make the security forces think that the villagers supported the resistance and were saving the coupons for later redemption.
Elder Son/Italian Green/Pole Bean: This psychological program was so secret that it was on a need-to-know basis. It was the insertion of sabotaged (SOG called it contaminated) Communist Chinese ammunition, from 7.62mm rifle, 12.7mm machine gun, all the way up to 82mm Mortar rounds. The object was to cause casualties among the Viet Cong and distrust of the Soviet and Chinese weaponry. It should be noted that since some
USforces were known to use captured weapons and ammo, a black report was prepared and accidentally left in a Saigonbar warning troops to beware of the communist weapons which were poorly made and known to explode in the hands of the user. By 1 July 1969, SOG had contaminated 11,562 7.62 rifle rounds, 555 12.7mm machine gun rounds, and 1,968 82mm mortar rounds. This program was very successful with numerous reports of accidents among the enemy. For instance, in July 1968 an exploded mortar was found near the Ban Me Thuot airstrip along with nine dead Viet Cong.
Curiously, this idea of contaminating ammunition was first thought up by the American PSYOP master, Colonel Edward Lansdale in the Philippines. Max Boot says in The Road not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam, Liveright, New York, 2018:
A far more lethal example of Lansdales deviousness was to provide the Huks with booby-trapped ammunition. Before long, he wrote, Huk rifle barrels were exploding from the use of faulty ammunition and hand grenades started exploding right in the hands of Huk ambushers. Either type of accident would send red-hot shrapnel flying into the guerrillas body, causing serious injury or death. Booby-trapped rifle ammunition would be likely to produce a fatal head wound, while a booby-trapped grenade would, at a minimum, reduce the arm to a bloody stump. If nothing else, these sabotaged weapons taught the Huks not to continue buying ammunition from corrupt suppliers who had been secretly funneling them government stockpiles.
Thus ends the story of the Sacred Sword of the Patriotic League and the secret base on Paradise Island. This plan might have been a very powerful weapon against North Vietnam if the operators were allowed to train and arm a cadre to fight against the Communist Party and the local political structure. The constraints placed on the operators by the United States Government doomed this program to be a costly failure. It cost millions of dollars and thousands of man hours, required fast boats to be bought, crews to be trained, aircraft to be sent over the north, radios to broadcast night and day, and yet fooled nobody and certainly never caused the North Vietnamese to consider halting their activities in the South. It was a glorious failure. It could have been so much more.
With the fall of South Vietnam all 144 staff members of the CIA and Vietnamese Strategic Technical Directorate "Sacred Sword of the Patriotic League" radio station Mat Tran Guom Thieng Ai Quoc were evacuated along with their families, about 1,000 people in all, to Phu Quoc island off the coast of South Vietnam. The refugees, along with some of their American supervisors, were transported by a leased merchant ship named American Challenger shortly thereafter to Guam, where they were eventually resettled in the United States.
Cu Loa Cham
During the Vietnam War, Electrician's Mate Second Class (Petty Officer Second
Class) Tom Huston was assigned to the Mobile Support Team One,
The author wishes to thank Dr. Rod Oakland for the use of some SSPL images found on his website Fighting Words and Images, The use of Leaflets in the Propaganda War in Vietnam 1945 to 1975 and encourage readers to visit his website for more information on the use of leaflets during the Vietnam War. Readers who may have additional information or personal experiences with the MACV-SOG and/or the Sacred Sword of the Patriot League are also encouraged to write to the author at email@example.com.